DIY Car Care Checklist

A young woman checks her oil.

Not all that many years ago there were service stations with garages on almost every corner and whenever you bought gas, the folks at the service station would check under your hood to be sure everything was OK. Now, self service has replaced the old style service stations and you're on your own.

Do you know how to check your engine oil? How about your battery, windshield wipers, and tires? If you're not sure how to check these basics of your car's health, here's a quick overview.

Engine Oil

checking oil in a car engine

Check the oil with the engine off. Locate the dipstick, pull it out and wipe it clean with a paper towel or a cloth. After cleaning, slide the dipstick all the way back into the tube then pull it out again.

There are markings on the dipstick (Full and Add Oil). Read the oil level on the dipstick and only add oil if the oil is below the "Add Oil" mark and never fill above the "Full" line.

Don't worry if the oil on the dipstick looks dark, as long as you have changed your car's oil at the recommended intervals. If the oil is foamy or smells of gas, you should get your car checked by a professional.

You can also check your transmission fluid, radiator fluid, and brake fluid in the same way.


adjusting a car battery clamp

Most batteries today are "maintenance free," meaning you can't check the water level in the cells. However, you can check that the battery connections are clean and tight and there is no corrosion on them. If there is corrosion, clean it off with a mixture of baking soda and water. (Be careful not to touch both battery terminals at the same time). If the corrosion keeps coming back, have the battery and charging system checked by a professional.


Buy yourself a tire gauge and leave it in the car. Always check your tire pressure when the tires are cold and adjust them to the pressure recommended by the manufacturer. The recommended tire pressures are usually marked on a sticker in the glove box, on the driver’s side door jamb, or on the side of the tire. Proper tire pressure is important for tire life and fuel economy.

Windshield Wipers

Since wiper blades are made from rubber, over time they dry out and lose their flexibility. Once that happens, the wipers leave streaks on your windshield rather than clearing it. The best way to ensure a clean windshield is to change your wiper blades every 6,000 to 10,000 miles, or every year. Even new wiper blades will streak if they're dirty. Keep your wiper blades clean by rubbing the blade with a paper towel and some windshield wiper fluid whenever you clean your windshield.

Windshield Wiper Fluid

Check the level in the translucent tank usually located on a side wall in your engine compartment. The fluid will clean better if you don't dilute it with water.